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9. HYPOSTASIS, GRAMMAR, AND THEMATIZATION A Metaphysical Grammar The philosophical significance of grammar has long been apparent to linguists, linguistic philosophers, and philosophers in general . Levinas does not explore this topic directly, but his approach appeals at key moments to cases and parts of speech which play specific roles in philosophical expression, and in the “trace” of transcendence, carried over from the saying (le Dire) to the said (le Dit). Our first observation is that Levinas has chosen the infinitive form (le Dire is literally the “to say”), which is particularly appropriate in that, as the vessel of infinity, it is indefinite, lacking — or unimpeded by — the specifications of person and number. The said, by contrast, is both past and passive, having traded off its transcendent life and indeterminacy for the advantages of manifestation, the delineations of immanence. “Language has done its work and the Saying that bore this Said — but was going further — was absorbed and died in the said: it inscribed itself.”1 Some of the more specific ways in which the saying and the said are articulated have already been discussed in chapter 3, above. The Accusative The accusative is the modality in which a subjectivity encounters otherness. In the most dramatic case, that of the first person, the “me” is an “I” as seen by another. Levinas translates the Hebrew ynnh (here I am), as me voici in which me is the accusative, 85 SMITH_F11_85-90 3/1/05 6:05 PM Page 85 since it is embedded in the expression voi[s], or “see” and [i]ci, or “here.” It is myself standing in the presence of, and at the service of, the other. I stand “accused,” persecuted eventually, incorporated with unlimited liability. Levinas notes that the reflexive pronoun se in French has no nominative form. This is in fact the case, since it represents the same entity as the subject but taken as its own object (whether direct or indirect). One of the frequent uses of the reflexive is to give a passive meaning to the verb. The importance of the change of case from nominative to accusative as applied to the moi or selfish self is admirably expressed in the following commentary by Guy Petitdemange: Exposure designates the absolutely initial status of the moi as a soi, the very first non-allergic nature of the self to the other and the priority of the other in this disposition. Exposure is the result of this letting-be of the other within the citadel of the moi, the letting-be of recurrence, of the return or coming of the other into the same. At that moment the moi becomes soi — identity in the accusative, not rid of the moi, but on the contrary summoned to appear, constrained from within to leave the shadowy refuge of interiority to answer, before all else, for this extraterritorialized outside that is never my object — the other.2 This existential explication of the grammatical category of the accusative is a subdivision of a broader category: that of the noun, the “substantive,” that which is posited or thematized. Hypostasis, thematization and the il y a (“there is”) The noun, or substantive, is an achievement. It is the emergence from “existence” (which in the early work De l’existence à l’existent, translated with some loss as Existence & Existents, is termed the il y a, or the anonymous “there is”) into an existent , that is, into a separate entity or being. The verbal aspect of being is therefore “older” than the substantive. Tied to and paralleling this promotion from the anonymous il y a to the 86 Part Two: Themes SMITH_F11_85-90 3/1/05 6:05 PM Page 86 participial form of being (an existent = existant, the French present participle of the verb exister) is the progression from wakefulness or insomnia to consciousness. Paradoxically, one of the characteristics of consciousness is the ability to fall asleep, to shut out the il y a in this way. Levinas’s use of the word “hypostasis” is derived from the Enneads of Plotinus, particularly the fifth.3 Levinas uses the term to designate the emergence of beings from the il y a into a substantive state of “existents.” An existent is “master of its existence, as a subject is master of its attribute.”4 The il y a may well be compared to the state of the world before creation, the tohu uvohu, of Genesis...


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